How to prepare your tortoise for hibernation

Is Your Tortoise Ready to Hibernate?  

Did you know that at least 6 million Tortoises have died in Britain, mainly in hibernation, since they were first imported for the pet trade in the 1940s? 

 We can make hibernation much safer for our Tortoises, by following some simple steps:

 Some Do’s and Don’ts of hibernation




Get your tortoise ready for hibernation by doing the following:

  • Giving a vet check.
  • Weigh in grammes.
  • Measure straight shell length in millimeters.
  • Compare weight and length on Jackson graph.
  • Give regular warm baths.
  • Stop feeding for 4 weeks before hibernation.



Expect your tortoise to hibernate without help.

  • Hibernate an underweight tortoise.
  • Let him hibernate in the garden.
  • Hibernate your tortoise if it has been ill, has a runny nose, or any lumps or wounds.
  • Hibernate your female tortoise if you know she has eggs.
  • Leave everything to chance.

 When you are sure that you should hibernate, help your tortoise as much as you can:  

 Choose a safe place:

  • Frost free garage.
  • No rodents.
  • Not the loft.



Choose a place with suitable temperatures:

  • Between 2 and 10 degrees celcius.
  • Use a maximum – minimum thermometer to check the temperature.

Use polystyrene chips or shredded paper:

  • Not hay or straw.




Put the tortoise inside a strong cardboard box, large enough for them to turn around in.

Put this box inside another wooden box, for extra insulation and protection. Do not seal this box.




Check your tortoise’s weight each month. You can do this without waking her.

She should not lose more than 1% of her weight in one month. A 1000g tortoise should not lose more than 10g in one month.







 Wake your tortoise up:

  • After 10-12 weeks. Often hibernation is only 6-8 weeks in the wild.
  • If the tortoise loses too much weight.
  • If they go to the toilet while asleep.
  • If they wake up early.

Do not put the tortoise back into hibernation after it wakes up.

 When you can’t hibernate your tortoise, or when your tortoise wakes up:

  • Use a vivarium to keep your tortoise warm during the Autumn, in order to keep the hibernation short.
  • Overwinter your tortoise in a vivarium. This will mean s/he is awake, and feeding all through the Winter. 

Essential if sick or underweight:

  •  Use a vivarium when your tortoise wakes up early, or in the Spring before the weather is warm enough for the tortoise to go outside.
  • Use a vivarium for very young or small tortoises which may only hibernate for 4-8 weeks depending upon age and weight. 

 NOTE: Not all tortoises are designed to hibernate!

 The species seen in this country which can be successfully hibernated are Mediterranean tortoises (Spur-thighed, Hermanns, Marginated) and Horsfields tortoises (Russian or Steppe tortoises). Some semi-aquatic species such as American Box turtles can also be hibernated (a different system than that described here is needed).  

There are many other types of tortoises kept as pets in the UK, many of these do not hibernate in the wild, and cannot cope with hibernation. Examples include Leopard tortoises, Red foot and Yellow foots, Hingebacks, Eygptian tortoises, Pancake tortoises and Giant African spurred tortoises.